Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Cause Worth Supporting Gets A Song Worth Buying

I was thrilled to stumble upon this version of Screamin' Jay Hawkin's I Put A Spell On You recorded by Shane MacGowan and Friends (his friends include Nick Cave, Mick Jones, Chrissie Hynde, Glen Matlock, Paloma Faith, Eliza Doolittle, and Johnnie Depp). All proceeds go to Concern Worldwide's continuing relief work in Haiti. It will be officially released March 7, but you can pre-order it here. Good musicians making good music for a good cause.

I know, I have previously pointed out that this song is stalker-ish, but it is still good and suits these musicians very well.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

People Got A Lot Of Nerve

Incontrovertible proof that I am going to hell: the first thought I had when I read the headline about the Orca killing a trainer at Sea World as spectators watched in horror was, "Life imitates a Neko Case song!"

Of course, this isn't the first time an Orca in captivity has killed a trainer, though it isn't clear if the whales meant to harm the humans or just thought they were toys and wanted to play (breakable toys which can't breathe underwater, yes, but did you take such things into consideration when you played "Barbie and Her Friends Are Stuck On Atlantis"?) You may argue, as Neko Case did, that as they are commonly called Killer Whales, one should not be surprised when they kill. Yeah, but that has little to do with attacks on humans and everything to do with getting a bad rap from fishermen competing for prey.

I know, you think I am defending the Orcas' actions because they are so mod with their black and white coloring and their scientific name is so punk rock (Orcinus Orca--"Orcinus means "of or belonging to the kingdom of the dead", and although the name Orca is probably not etymologically related, the assonance might have given some people the idea it means "whale that brings death" or "demon from hell.") And, yes, that is part of it. But they are extremely fascinating creatures; in the wild, there are different subspecies with entirely different feeding habits and social structures. These whales are intelligent beings with linguistic dialects and culture. And we keep them in a cage and make them perform for fish.

It is tragic that Dawn Brancheau died at the hands of an animal she loved and trusted. However, it is cruel to imprison an extremely intelligent and long lived animal because they can be forced to do cool tricks when hungry. Perhaps, it is inevitable that one may lash out at a trainer or just start to viewing humans as playthings. After all, what have we taught the Orca of our culture or our respect for the life and liberty of another being?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Reckless Incubator

I hated pregnancy. I hated being tired all the time. I hated the loss of cognitive function (though I know a recent study said that "pregnancy brain" is a myth, I disagree). I hated the loss of creative function (I first suspected I was pregnant when I found myself unable to write a sentence or knit a row). Most of all, I hated that the only books I could concentrate on reading were pregnancy and baby related.

While I am sure this made me incredibly tiresome if you wanted to talk to me about anything else, it also meant I was extremely well-versed in all things gestation. By the end of my pregnancy, the book reading coupled with my Bradley classes had me considering becoming a doula. During my pregnancy, however, I was overwhelmed with guilt over all the things I did which were possibly* unsafe for my fetus. Due to luck, education, and socio-economic class**, I wasn't doing any of the seriously unsafe things like smoking, abusing substances, living in an environmentally unsafe area, staying in an abusive relationship, operating heavy machinery, but I was doing stuff which was dangerous like:
  • Driving a car because I could get into an accident which could cause fetal damage/miscarriage
  • Riding my bicycle because a fall might cause fetal damage/miscarriage. Not only did I ride, I rode on city streets, so I was also at risk of being hit by a car
  • Walking up the two flight of concrete stairs to our apartment because a fall might cause fetal damage/miscarriage
  • Pilates because it required me to lie on my back which might cause the blood flow to my uterus to be compromised which could lead to fetal damage/miscarriage
  • Exercising on the elliptical machine because it caused my heart rate to go over 140 within the first few minutes and that was bad for the fetus. Also, I was probably overheating which was bad for the fetus
  • Drinking one glass of champagne during my second trimester, as well as the very rare sips of wine I had at various points during my pregnancy, because no one knows the threshold for the development of fetal alcohol disorder
  • Flying at 18 weeks because I was exposing myself and my fetus to lots of radiation
  • Eating sushi and deli meat because the bacterial exposure could lead to fetal damage/miscarriage
And those are just the things I can think of off the top of my head.

I mention this because the Utah legislature has just passed a bill to criminalize miscarriage. The bill is meant to criminalize the actions of women who attempt to terminate their pregnancies through non-medical means. In addition to women who actively attempt to end their pregnancies, it also targets women who engage in "reckless behavior" which leads to the unintentional miscarriage of their fetus at any point in the pregnancy.

How do you define reckless? Look at the list of my questionable* activities during pregnancy. If I had miscarried, it would have been devastating for me and I would probably have blamed myself, but should I have been prosecuted for causing the miscarriage due to my reckless acts? (I am getting hung up on the structure of that sentence--I am sure I got the tense wrong, but maybe that is normal when speaking about a hypothetical parallel universe in the past tense).

How do you define a miscarriage due to behavior? Given that 15-20% of recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage, in many cases it would be hard to determine which ones could have been prevented.

Also, how do you define pregnant? Many women have irregular menstrual cycles at some point in their lives, so it is impossible to know if you are pregnant until you take a pregnancy test (and then, depending on the results, you may not even know then). It is estimated that up to 50% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage due to the high number of miscarriages which occur without a woman knowing she was pregnant. Should the law be applied to all women who who end up miscarrying, whether or not they know they are pregnant? I'm not just talking about the women who are profiled on I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant, I'm talking about women who are only a few weeks along. As extreme as this sounds, since the Utah law covers the entire pregnancy, a woman could be prosecuted for recklessly causing a miscarriage of an embryo she didn't know she was carrying.***

I have long suspected that the real goal of the anti-choice movement is to punish women for being sexually active, for getting pregnant, for being the weaker sex and, unfortunately, laws like the ones the Utah State Legislature has passed only serve to bolster this suspicion. I find it interesting that many of the same people who claim to despise government intervention in everything, including health care decisions, are all too happy to have that same government intervene when it comes to the bodies of women. Are women merely incubators for the lives which may be growing inside of them?

*The problem is that they recommendations for pregnant women are constantly evolving and the experts disagree with one another with regards to the risks and benefits of many activities.
**Luck, education and socio-economic class will probably have a lot to do with how feticide laws are applied, but they definitely have a lot to do with whether one finds oneself able to avoid risky behaviors.
***Some have interpreted the wording of the law to exclude women who are unaware they are pregnant. However, how does one define "knowing"? Many people (including me) would argue that a woman who has had sex and missed her period should at least consider the possibility that she is pregnant. Some people might argue that a woman who didn't take a pregnancy test was attempting to skirt the law. I know, this sounds extreme, but is it really any more extreme than the entire law itself?

Monday, February 08, 2010

Getting Married

Nuit Blanche from Spy Films on Vimeo.

This short film, Nuit Blanche, is just beautiful on so many levels. Julian watched it with me and, after deciding that the people in the film looked like they were getting married, he asked, "Is this what you were like when you were getting married?" Sortof, without all the slow motion and broken glass. And it was in color.

I know, this should be something I post on our anniversary or something, but that's a long way off and I saw the film on Boing Boing today.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

An Ad You Won't See During The Super Bowl

You will, however, see an advertisement wherein a talented athlete and his mother discuss his mother's choice not to terminate her pregnancy. What is ironic about the advertisement is that it is sponsored by a group whose goal is to prevent other people from being able to make choices regarding what is best for them and their families. Why are they co-opting the language of their opponents? I really can't say, but my suspicion is that many people who oppose government intervention with regards to health care and banking regulations may have a problem with the idea of that same government intervening in their reproductive decisions. So instead of Focus on the Family saying what they really want, which is to end a medical practice with which they disagree, they try to characterize their position as protecting the rights of women like Pam Tebow to not to have an abortion. Except that no one advocates forcing women to have abortions, so this is extremely deceptive on their part.

Knowing this doesn't change the fact that I am always inspired by stories of people lived when doctors thought they wouldn't. So, if you are like me and find yourself inspired by Pam Tebow's story and her choice, consider making a donation to the organization which is dedicated to protecting a woman's right to decide what happens to her body and make smart reproductive decisions for themselves: Planned Parenthood.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

If You Want To Adopt, Why Not Consider Adopting From Foster Care?

The other day, I wrote about my feelings about the group of kidnappers who are currently in custody for attempting to smuggle children out of Haiti. As I learn more about the tactics used by the kidnappers to separate children from their families, I am becoming increasingly agitated and hope that everyone involved in this scheme serves prison sentences.

There is an amazing article on The Dangerous Desire to Adopt Haitian Babies on racialicious. It not only discusses the ethical dilemmas and questionable impulses surrounding adoption from post-earthquake Haiti, it discusses the problems inherent in international adoptions as well. The writer asks a lot of hard questions about what the prospective adoptive parents are willing or able to take on and then delivers an observation which is devastating in its truth:
You’d better be sure you can handle it. If you can’t, your child will pay the highest cost. If the adoption falls through, your child may end up in foster care, possibly so scarred that they’ll never get another chance at a family.
The Adoptees of Color Roundtable has a statement on Haiti on their website which I also consider to be a must read for all of us. The whole thing is powerful, but I was struck most by the following:
We uphold that Haitian children have a right to a family and a history that is their own and that Haitians themselves have a right to determine what happens to their own children. We resist the racist, colonialist mentality that positions the Western nuclear family as superior to other conceptions of family, and we seek to challenge those who abuse the phrase “Every child deserves a family” to rethink how this phrase is used to justify the removal of children from Haiti for the fulfillment of their own needs and desires. Western and Northern desire for ownership of Haitian children directly contributes to the destruction of existing family and community structures in Haiti. This individualistic desire is supported by the historical and global anti-African sentiment which negates the validity of black mothers and fathers and condones the separation of black children from their families, cultures, and countries of origin.
Too often, we assume we know what is best for other people. Too often, we confuse what we want with what is right, proclaiming our desires to be "moral imperatives" and, therefore, above reproach. Too often, we confuse our cultural conditioning with morality. Too often, we do not take the time to listen to the people who will be most affected by our actions.

I am not suggesting that people should shouldn't adopt children or that there is something inherently wrong with international adoptions. However, we need to question our motives when we seek to "rescue" children. Isn't it arrogant to assume that the life we can offer them is better than the one that they are currently living? Is adoption the only way to offer a child a "better" life?

We keep hearing about how poor Haiti is (though we aren't reminded enough of the western world's responsibility for that poverty), but poverty explains why the quake did so much damage, it doesn't begin to explain the tenor of the world's response to the damage. As in many things related to the aftermath after the earthquake in Haiti--idiotic and racist statements made by Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh, people getting food and water for their families being described as looters in the American press, the insistence by Americans that we need to expedite the adoption process so that children (many of whom still have families) can be "rescued"--I can't help but feel it would all be a lot different if the earthquake had happened in, say, Iceland.

So the Haitian people don't need us to adopt their children. What they need is help. Please give to an organization (like UNICEF) that is on the ground in Haiti, helping the people put their lives back together so they can keep their families intact.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Is It Really George's Fault, Or Is It The Man In The Yellow Hat's Fault For Taking An Agent of Chaos Out Of The Wilderness?

When I was around four or five, there was a night when I was lying in bed. I must have drifted into that in between state, where you think you are awake and thinking, but your thoughts are so scary and surreal that you are probably dreaming. I began to think/dream that me and my family were in a blank space, not a room, not outside, nowhere familiar, just lots of white background which seemed really far away and insubstantial (when I was this age, I also thought I could touch the horizon if I had the endurance to reach it). Some people came and though I couldn't really make out what they looked like, they were obviously in positions of authority, and they told me that they were taking my family away. I remember looking at my mom and dad and my brother, they were all together watching me, but not distressed by being separated from me, and they were slowly moving farther away from me, as if we were on conveyor belts, and I couldn't move to reach them. I started to cry. I got out of bed and sat in the kitchen an tried to explain what had happened in my head to my mom, but it was hard because I was positive that I had been awake and I couldn't explain why I was so shaken by the experience. I don't remember how my mom reacted, but since my insomnia was well established at this point, she probably consoled me by telling me it was just a nightmare and I needed to go to sleep. Which I did. I have no idea why this experience remained so vivid in my memories over the years when so much has faded. Perhaps it was the intensity of my fear that my family would be taken from me and my fear that they wouldn't mind so much. Maybe it was an awareness that, as a child, I was completely dependent upon others and that other people didn't necessarily have my best interests at heart, even when they thought they did, that most adults couldn't hear my voice through the filter of their own expectations and desires.

Perhaps this is why I feel no sympathy for the group of Americans who are currently under arrest for attempting to kidnap Haitian children. While I understand the impulse to help children who have lost their families and I have wondered what the process would be to adopt an orphan from Haiti, I can't imagine what level of cluelessness and arrogance one must achieve to believe it is a good and noble thing to go to a newly damaged country and scoop up children to bring back to the US for adoption without notifying any government (US, Haitian or Dominican) of your intentions. This doesn't sound like the modus operandi of people who legitimately want to help children, this sounds more like the actions of people who sell children to sex rings. Even if their intentions were what they claim they were, did they ever ask the kids what they wanted? Even if all these children were orphans (and there is evidence that this is not the case), what if they have grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends who are still alive and want to care for them? Where did these idiots get the idea that being raised by strangers in America was automatically superior to any life the children may have in Haiti?

Oh yeah, they got the idea from centuries of colonialism and the culture in which we live.

As you may recall, we are big Curious George fans in our house. However, we are fans of the present day, kinder, gentler Curious George. Whenever we go back to the originals, Fred and I find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of having to address awkward questions like, "You mean the Man With The Yellow Hat stole George from the jungle?" and "Won't George miss his family and the jungle?" and "Why is George smoking?" Most of the time, one really would prefer a reading of a children's book to remain just that and not turn into a teachable moment about imperialism, slavery, and colonialism-not that we don't want to teach Julian about these things, but we have learned through hard experience that bedtime is not always the best time to tackle big scary concepts.

It will probably be awhile before he watches this

Werner Herzog Reads Curious George is a million bits of brilliance glued together with awesome. It is filled with hilarity. Such as:

George is lured out of hiding by the hat, an alien trinket of unimaginable cultural significance. George shortly learns a hard lesson about desire as his adventure with the hat leads to his immediate captivity.

In short order, a monkey has bested seven adult men. This should give you a dim view of human potential.

Back in society, even an unspoiled mind like George's cannot resist human materialism. He decides he must have the balloons.

Watch the whole thing. It will make you very happy. And it will remind you about the original stories. Because these days, we are all about the new stories where George is more of a child to the Man With The Yellow Hat and we don't examine how he left the jungle. We focus on how patient, kind, and good the Man With The Yellow Hat is and we gloss over the reality that he took George out of his world in order to satisfy his own desires. But if we allow ourselves to forget the sins of the past, aren't we doomed to committing them in the future?